The original wording isNo human being has the right -- under any circumstances -- to initiate force against another human being, nor to advocate, threaten or delegate its initiation. --The Zero Aggression Principle
Many proper acts are not necessarily "good" acts. Putting a bullet into the brain of a serial killer is not a good act, but it needs to be done to keep them from doing further harm and only justice for the harm they have done. To quote Mr. Gilbert: "A Policeman's lot is not a happy one."
I consider self defense necessary, not necessarily good. This is one reason I prefer to peg good as a creative act. This however does not make anything not good, "evil". One reason I really do not like black and white morality. B&W does not reflect the world in any meaningful way.
In My Game Paladins are not "Good", they are protectors of the church to which they belong. They can be swaggering, tin-plated bastards if indeed that is what the ethics of the church call for. They can be humble, self sacrificing impoverished monks. They follow the ethics of the church, not concepts of good or evil. So Paladin does not equal Good, it equals a Paragon of the Church. And that is frankly easier to deal with.
I'm wondering where and how to draw a line on an act's level of goodness, or through the set of [all actions]. Do you draw it in the middle, resulting in a black and white world? Or make a cut for good meets neutral, and one for neutral meets evil...Which such a division you could say that saving a life is a Good act, but maybe saving a life because you were ordered to falls in the Neutral or Evil category.
Kinda harsh to leave it to DM's discretion, because then pious characters would have a hard time deciding how to be pious. But then, what god was ever unambiguous?
The other need for drawn lines comes from rules elements, like detection spells.
So bipolar scheme could look like:
Consideration for others-------------/----------Or Lack Thereof
Or a more continuous scheme:
Creative acts----/----Non-creative acts-----/---Destructive Acts
I'd like to use something like:
Promoting Life----/---Not promoting Life---/---Promoting Death
but Life isn't always what Westerners equate with the generic concept of Good.
Here's a mini-poll: would you call saving the life of the king, who routinely orders the murder of his political opponents, a Good act?
it has multiple ramifications. saving a life can be good. saving a life that will destroy many other lives can be bad. again, context and circumstances change whether a given act is actually good or evil.
The above dilemma is one reason black and while systems that force you to be responsible for actions that are not your own don't work. No matter how many people the wicked King kills after you save his life, that is not your responsibility. That is the King's responsibility. No onus on you head.
Likewise, saving a life because you were ordered to. You don't have to obey the order. Orders do not shift the responsibility for the actual actions. If the orders are immoral, you have the moral duty to disobey them. You may face consequences you don't like, but the responsibility for your actions, ordered or not is still yours.
besides, just because a person has commited many murders in the past is no guarantee one way or another that they absolutely will murder again. saving the life or not is your choice. the only way that one could make a justified decision to allow said king to die, is if that one somehow had access to future knowledge or to absolutely accurate knowledge of what is happening inside the persons head. and even then, one must question by what authority one decides to deliberately allow another to die, when it was in their power to save.
This is an interesting discussion, it seems like "good" is something thats not so easy to define. I guess its hard to agree on what constitutes "good" because because we all have different values. I have a few ideas about this though, but its just the way I see it.
I think its easier to recognize evil, because of the horror involved. Its not enough to say life is good, and death is bad, because there are several possible causes of death. If a kind honest person is murdered, we would probably agree that the murderer did something evil. Imagine the same kind honest person died from drowning, say while attempting to save the life of someone else who was drowning. The guy was attempting to save someone's life, so we would see him as heroic. His death was caused by drowning though, so we can't really say that the water was evil because it drowned him. The water is innanimate, so it justs exists, it can't choose to do good or bad.
Return to the first example, the person who murdered the kind honest guy is evil, because he chose to kill someone for no reason. The victim was kind and honest, and people found him to be a pleasant guy and feel pain by the fact that he's gone. The point that someone made a conscious decision to kill him, is what adds the horror to the situation and makes it evil.
Now suppose this murderer continues on killing more and more decent folk, and becomes addicted to it. He enjoys it and will do continue doing it if he has the chance. He's clearly doing evil, so it would be a heroic act or "good" to kill him. You're saving other decent people by killing the murderer. To quote Mace Windu: "He's too dangerous to be left alive!"
So in conclusion on that point, while I think killing in general is often going to end up in the "evil" catagory, it can become heroic under particular circumstances.
I heard a good description a few times about this. There's 3 broad types of people in this way. Sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs. Sheep represent most of the population, they're generally decent folk that work hard and contribute to society. Then there's wolves, the violent types who can't live peacefully in the society, and have to live by murdering and stealing from the defenseless sheep. The wolves know how to fight, but the sheep are afraid of fighting and won't defend themselves when credibly threatened by violence. Then there's sheepdogs, the sheep don't always like them very much because they look a lot like wolves, they have sharp teeth and claws and are good at fighting. But the sheepdogs love their sheep, and risk their lives to protect them, and hone their skills so that they'll be ready to fight when the wolves come around. Naturally, when the wolves come around and cause trouble, and the sheepdogs get rid of them, the sheep remember that its nice to have the sheepdogs around and love them again.
So saving a life or taking it, will be good or evil depending on the purpose. If the king murdered "good" or "decent" people, he's probably in the evil catagory, so it would probably be good to kill him, or even better overthrow his entire governmental hierarchy if its also corrupt like the king, and establish new leadership. If you knew the "evil" king was going to commit or "order" more murders, it would NOT be a good action to save him, because by saving him you would be allowing him to commit more evil acts. IF, you knew of a way to rehabilitate the king and make him into a good person, that might be better, because you're allowing him to atone for his crimes and to do good himself, but that would require a very high probability of success to justify the risk in my mind.
I don't think the bi-polar charts can always accurately describe good or evil, because its always situation dependant.
Consideration for others or kindness I think fits in the tendencies for good, but lacking consideration doesn't make you evil, it just makes you neutral. Causing harm to other people who are not evil is what makes you evil in my opinion.
Additionally, creation and destruction can't be inherantly good or evil either. Suppose your creation is a super-virus pandemic that has the potential to wipe out a million people in a week... you created life (sort of, a form of it anyway), but that creation is dangerous and only has use to do evil.
On the flip side, suppose your local coyote population is out of control and they've taken to eating your town's livestock and some of the people... Your neighbors are beginning to starve, and can't go work in the fields for fear of being attacked by coyotes. In response you form up a hunting party and destory 75% of the local coyote population. That should be a good thing because you're ending the suffering of your town, and now that the coyote population is back under control, other animals can increase in number again, the animal kingdom comes back into balance and the coyotes won't be starving either...
Another illustration, suppose there's a river that acts as the only source of fresh water for your town. The local innovator builds a dam thats supposed to control the water flow better and improve your farming because of a plan for irrigation... BUT, the dam doesn't quite work right and just blocks the flow of water completely, leaving your town dying of thirst, and the designer has a heart attack and dies before he can correct the problem... nobody else knows how to fix the dam, but you all know life was better without it. The dam was "created" but didn't bring any "good" to the people, and in fact brought unintended harm. "Destroying" the dam would be an act of good obviously because you're bringing water back to the people.
So... in final big picture conclusion, I think its hard to describe good and evil in simplistic absolute terms, but I think we can give guidance enough that we can probably all agree on "some" of the issues. Individual values play a role in people's opinions though, so you'll never find answers to specific questions that everyone in the world agree's on.
For gaming purposes, this is why I find it annoying to specify alignment, and prefer the GURPS system which leaves that out. You can put whatever alignment you want on your character sheet, but its the way that you play your character that determines "how" good or not you are. Pestering players for acts of charity or else they lose their "good" alignment status is annoying, which is another reason I think its better to leave alignment unspecified. The way you play your character will speak for itself. The way GURPS is cool about this is that it doesn't specify alignment, it specifies personality traits. Things like: greed, miserly, glutton, bad temper, honest, truthful, sense of duty, compulsive behavior, phobias, impulsive, overconfident, pacifist, alcoholism, addiction, absent minded, bully, codes of honor, cowardice, gullible, lazy, shy...
I feel like the personality traits give you more of a feel for who your character is than alignment, and some of the traits seem good, some seem bad, but you can have pretty much any of the traits and still do good or evil. The traits may guide you in a particular direction, but they're really just guidance for good roleplaying.
Sorry if that was too long...
Well we need SOME sort of definition, because I'm starting to wonder what positive and negative energy are if they're not based on good and evil. It's beginning to look like the easy way is to say that "good" is of what your god approves, and "evil" is of what it doesn't. Or maybe Good is a faction of like-minded gods, and Evil the other faction. That could result in pos and neg planes, right?
DMMike, I have some conflicting ideas about defining good. I think in most real world monotheistic religions, its God's role to define good and evil, mortal man has no say in it. In polytheistic religions, take the greek gods or the chinese dieties for example, good and evil isn't really defined by them, because they fall on different levels of the good and evil spectrum as well.
For game purposes, I think its best to develop and idea of what constitutes good and evil that transcends religion, because different religions will have different values. The servants of Cthulu will have conflicting values than the roman catholic church... it would be too confusing to say it depends on your religion, because then one person would be evil for killing someone in self defense, and someone else would be good for murdering an entire village and raping all the women and children... that would obviously be absurd.
I don't know what you mean about positive and negative energy... unless you're talking about holy vs demonic power or something like that. As a GM, I think its best to develop in your own mind what the guidelines are for good and evil, and make judgements on it depending on the situation. There's no way to define it absolutely, because there's always a way to find a situation thats complicated.
Also, I would NOT provide the definition to the players. We all know at an ambiguous level at least what constitutes good and evil, so if they're trying to be good, they'll know what they should be doing. If they're not sure, the right thing for them to do would be find someone in game they respect and ask for advise.
Being "good" should take active effort. If a "good" player isn't activey trying to improve their standing on the good /neutral /evil scale, I'd have to question their right to claim "good" status. Maybe not push them down to neutral, but I might start casually describe them as "good" with neutral tendencies...
However, in my opinion, the best thing to do is NOT define good as I mentioned earlier, and give the "good" players tough moral decisions, so that they're forced to think hard about what the right thing to do is. If they're wishy washy in their convictions, try to lead them astray!
I do this all the time in Star Wars. I give my jedi players tough decisions, where doing the "right" thing is inconvenient, or will outright put them in a position of disadvantage. This way, the dark side really is the quick and easy path, and the light side is tough, and takes a lot of effort and sacrifice.
thinking about it for a bit here is a very short incomplete list of some traits of the planes in question:
cooperative/independant (implied traits)
i'm thinking that these might be able to exist outside of good and evil.
I feel like Justice Potter Stewart in 64 when they had the pornography case in front of the supreme court. He said, "I can't define pornography but I know it when I see it." or words to that effect, it was a long time ago and I have slept since then. I can't define good but I know it when I see it. All I can say is how I play it and that is with the best interests of the party and innocent NPC's as the guide to my behavior. To do no harm and be generous with my time, goods and fighting arm for their benefit and not my characters benefit.
Conversely, the average person (in the game world) is going to define "good" as you have above. Good is what they or their religion defines as good, and likewise evil.
However "Almight Ghodd the DM" needs something a little more concrete.
Today's Two Cents:
The more I think about it, the more Good starts to mean "something of which I approve." The speaker, in this case, is anyone. It's totally subjective. I guess that would make Bad the opposite, and possibly make Evil the Intentional Opposite. The interesting conclusion is that these definitions make popular opinion of Good almost entirely religion-related. A cultural phenomenon, if you will.
The roleplaying translation is that Good game mechanics become relative to the gods' interpretations. In D&D: Protection from Good becomes Protection from Comrades. And the Positive Energy Plane isn't a plane of Goodness, or even Good creatures, but a plane that links the planes of gods who endorse in healing and life, and the creatures that follow those gods (who happen to be listed as Good).
Now I'm thinking about adjudicating a Detect Good spell as one that shows who's your friend in the area, or possibly anyone leaning toward the faith of the god you follow.
i took a simplified approach. the privacy of a person's mind is inviolate, with the few exceptions. detection spell's function is predicated upon Contracts. individuals make such agreements with beings of power. it takes the nature of an exchange. each gets something that they want. in the case of the character, it usually involves power. thus a detection spell will only find the presence or absense of Contracts. protection spells function similarly.